The XX Factor

Hillary Clinton Shamelessly Panders to Elena Ferrante Fans

Hillary Clinton signs copies of her book Hard Choices at Waterstones bookshop on July 3, 2014 in London, England.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

It’s generally accepted that Hillary Clinton’s campaign podcast, With Her, is little more than another way for Clinton to pander to her hardcore fans. Clinton doesn’t really need a boost among the podcast-listening population, which skews young and educated, but giving them an audio treat every couple of weeks is a good way to keep them excited about voting for her. As Slate’s Michelle Goldberg put it, the podcast is “charming and gutless propaganda.”

But though Clinton has shown no hesitation about throwing red meat to her base, her attempts to ingratiate herself with feminist voters in Thursday’s episode of With Her reach another level. In the episode, Clinton shamelessly panders to a particular subset of progressives: people who love the Neapolitan novels by pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante.

Asked, “What do you read?” by With Her cohost Max Linsky, Clinton replied, “I read both serious stuff that I’m supposed to read … but I also read for pleasure. I like novels, I like spy thrillers and mysteries, so, I like biographies. So I read a lot.” The following exchange ensued:

Linsky: Anything that’s grabbed you lately that you read?

Clinton: You know what I have started reading, and it’s just hypnotic, is the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.

Linsky: Oh, that’s a dangerous thing for you to do, because people start those books and then they like call in sick to work.

Clinton: Max, I had to stop myself. OK, so I read the first one. I could not stop reading it or thinking about it, I was totally engulfed in the people, the sounds, the sights, the feelings of being in the setting that the author so beautifully described, and then I started the second one and thought, “OK, I can’t, I have to ration myself,” and that’s what I’m currently doing, I’m rationing myself.

Talk about blatant fan service! Although political calculation is the mostly obvious explanation for Clinton’s claim to be hooked on Ferrante’s novels, there are a couple of other possibilities worth mentioning. The first is that Clinton, like so many readers before her, genuinely fell in love with the psychological insight and page-turning plot of My Brilliant Friend, Ferrante’s account of growing up poor, female, and intellectual in the machismo-steeped slums of Naples. The second possibility? That Clinton is Ferrante, and she’s trying to throw us off her trail by pretending she’s just now discovered the books. Either way: We’re on to you, Mrs. Clinton. And if you think My Brilliant Friend is good, just wait till you get to Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.